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UNRWA chief: ‘We might not be able to pay salaries after September’

June 25, 2022 at 1:13 pm

Commissioner General of the United Nations Palestine Refugee Agency (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini makes a speech as he holds a press conference following his visit in Gaza City, Gaza on 26 November 2020. [Ali Jadallah – Anadolu Agency]

Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Philippe Lazzarini warned on Friday that his organisation might not be able to pay salaries for its employees after September.

Speaking to journalists following a donor meeting in New York, Lazzarini stated that more than a $100 million shortfall in funding for 2022 is almost the same shortfall that UNRWA has faced every year for the past decade.

During the meeting, reports conveyed that donors pledged about $160 million for UNRWA. However, it still needs over $100 million to support education for more than half a million children, offer primary healthcare for close to two million people and provide emergency cash assistance to the poorest refugees.

If the pledges come to fruition, Lazzarini explained, they would enable UNRWA to run its operations through September.

However, he said: “I do not know if we will get the necessary cash to allow us to pay the salaries after the month of September.”

Lazzarini warned: “We are in an early warning mode. Right now, I’m drawing the attention that we are in a danger zone, and we have to avoid a situation where UNRWA is pushed to cross the tipping point because if we cross the tipping point, that means 28,000 teachers, health workers, nurses, doctors and engineers, cannot be paid.”

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The UNRWA chief explained how the UN agency deals with the hardships: “Today, we have some classrooms with up to 50 kids. We have a double shift in our schools. We have doctors who cannot spend more than three minutes in medical consultation. So if we go beyond that, it will force the agency to cut services.”

He continued: “We are expected to provide government-like services to one of the most destitute communities in the region, but we are funded like an NGO because we depend completely on voluntary contributions.”

Lazzarini blamed the risk of defunding on: “De-prioritisation, or maybe increased indifference, or because of domestic politics.”

The solution to UNRWA’s chronic financial problem, according to Lazzarini, requires “political will” to match the support for the agency’s work on behalf of Palestinian refugees.